What to Eat After Surgery and What to Avoid

If you've had surgery, the foods you eat in the days, weeks, and months after your operation can affect your healing and recovery. Eating the right foods—and avoiding the wrong foods—can keep you healthy while preventing complications like constipation and postoperative infection.

This article explains which foods to eat and which ones to avoid after surgery. It also offers tips when you don’t have an appetite or are too uncomfortable to eat.

Talk to Your Provider

The type of surgery you had and any pre-existing conditions you have will determine which diet is most appropriate for you.

For example:

Focus on Whole Foods

carrot and beet salad

Sarah Remington / Stocksy United

When stocking up before your surgery or getting back to shopping after surgery, take a look at your regular diet and see if there are any positive changes you could make. This may include eating more whole (minimally processed) foods.

An easy way to find whole foods is to start in the produce and meat sections.

Whole foods are much healthier than processed foods which tend to be high in sugar, salt, and fat and low in fiber. Processed foods may also contribute to inflammation, which could slow healing.

Whole Foods
  • Fresh fruit

  • Baked potato

  • Chicken breast

  • Onions

  • Fresh fish

  • Bananas

  • Fresh ground beef

Processed Foods
  • Fruit punch

  • French fries

  • Chicken nuggets

  • Onion rings

  • Fish sticks

  • Banana chips

  • Fast food burger

Your surgery could provide the extra incentive you need to make lasting changes to your eating habits. Eating whole foods supports your good health during recovery and every day after.

Prevent Constipation With Fiber

Kale salad in a bowl topped with roasted sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and avocado

anakopa / istock

Constipation is common after bowel surgery, but it can also happen after any surgical procedure. One reason is that prescription pain medications sometimes used after surgery—especially opioids—can slow bowel movements and create hard-to-pass stools.

Being constipated can also reduce your appetite, increase your pain level, and put stress on surgical incisions. These factors can get in the way of your healing.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods may prevent or treat constipation, while others that are low in fiber can increase the risk of constipation.

As a general rule, avoid low-fiber foods until you’re back to having regular, soft bowel movements. These include foods like:

  • Red meat
  • Cheese
  • Processed meats, such as bacon and hot dogs
  • White bread, crackers, and pasta
  • Sugary snacks and desserts

Alcohol and caffeine can have a diuretic effect on the body, causing dehydration and constipation so avoid these beverages after surgery.

Foods to Eat

One key way to prevent constipation is to get enough fiber. This is especially true of insoluble fiber which increases the speed stools move through the digestive tract.

Consider adding these high-fiber foods to your diet while you are healing:

  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dried fruits, including prunes and prune juice
  • Beans and legumes
  • Bran cereals

Taking a fiber supplement (like psyllium) is another way to boost your fiber intake (although you won’t get the nutritional benefits of whole foods).

Stay Hydrated

It’s also important to drink enough fluid while you are healing. Dehydration can worsen constipation and make fiber in your diet less helpful. Most experts recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, a target that may be all the more important while recovering from surgery.

Choose Lean Protein

sliced chicken breasts on a slate cutting board with a bowl of whole grain mustard

vkuslandia / istock

Dietary protein is key for your recovery as it provides the building blocks for new tissues and muscles.

With that said, some sources of protein are high in saturated fat, particularly red meat and processed meats. Eating too much saturated fat places inflammatory stress on the digestive tract and can also be constipating.

Instead choose lean protein foods like:

  • Chicken (skinless)
  • Turkey (skinless)
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Fish and seafood
  • Peanut butter or nut butter
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Nonfat or low-fat milk and yogurt (unsweetened)
  • Protein powder
  • Nutritional drinks like Ensure and Boost

Opt for Whole Grains

bowl of oatmeal topped with bananas, blueberries, chia seeds, and sliced almonds

wmaster 890 / istock

Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also help keep you regular by delivering a healthy dose of fiber to your diet.

But not all whole grains are created equal. White rice, for example, is heavily processed and doesn't offer as much nutrition as brown rice. It can also be constipating (while brown rice can help alleviate constipation).

Healthy sources of wholes grains include:

  • Barley
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Black rice
  • Brown rice
  • Red rice
  • Wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta, or crackers
  • Whole-grain cereals

Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruit including strawberries, lemonds, blackberries, apples, and grapefruit

leonori / istock

Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support healing following surgery.

Even so, you may need to control your intake as over-indulging in certain fruits can cause diarrhea, while over-indulging in certain vegetables can cause bloating. Both can place stress on the intestines after bowel surgery and impede healing.

Fruits high in a type of sugar called fructose may need to be limited while you are recovering from bowel surgery. These include:

  • Apples
  • Apple juice
  • Cherries
  • Dried fruits, such as figs, prunes, and raisins
  • Mangoes
  • Pears
  • Watermelon

In the same vein, vegetables that are gassy may need to be avoided until your digestion settles. These include:

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Green peppers
  • Onions
  • Radishes

Choose Low-Fat Dairy

Bowl of cottage cheese with a side of strawberries

Stitchik / istock

Reduced-fat and nonfat dairy products are excellent sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and minerals that aid in wound healing (magnesium, zinc, and selenium).

However, if you experience constipation when consuming dairy products before surgery you should limit dairy products after surgery.

Those with pre-existing lung disease can experience more coughing and lung secretions after eating dairy. For these people, dairy may need to be limited following surgery.

The same may apply to people who have undergone chest surgery or have a persistent cough after abdominal surgery. Coughing can place undue stress on incisions while healing.

To be safe, take it slow and try low-fat options that are easier on your digestion, such as:

  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Skim milk
  • Fat-free yogurt (unsweetened)

What to Do if You’re Not Hungry

Blueberry smoothie topped with chia seeds

Anna_Shepulova / istock

After you have surgery, you might not feel like eating much. If you’re having nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramping, you may not want to eat at all.

Your appetite should return within a few days of surgery, but it’s important that you maintain nutrition as best you can in the meantime.

To maintain strength, try eating small amounts of bland foods throughout the day, focusing on calorie-dense foods. These foods pack a lot of protein and other nutrients in a smaller amount of food.

Examples of calorie-dense foods include:

  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Hummus
  • Lean meat or poultry
  • Oily fish like salmon and tuna
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter and nut butter
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes

You might also find it easier to drink rather than eat after mouth, throat, or stomach surgery. Focus on foods like smoothies, chicken broth, creamed soups, or protein drinks you can either drink or sip through a straw.

If you have stomach upset, try sipping peppermint tea or flat ginger ale or suck on ginger candy.

Add Calories to Your Diet

Woman holding almonds

Daisy-Daisy / istock

If you are having a hard time getting enough calories in your diet after surgery, there are strategies that can help.

In addition to choosing calorie-dense foods, try these seven easy fixes:

  • Eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three big meals.
  • Start by eating the highest-calorie food on your plate first (in case you lose your appetite mid-meal).
  • Add toppings to your food, like guacamole, granola, dried cranberries or apricots, nuts, and seeds (such as pumpkin, sunflower, and chia).
  • Snack between meals with nuts, nut butter, hummus, sliced chicken or turkey, raisins, protein bars, or protein drinks.
  • Use cues throughout your day—like commercial breaks on TV—to remind you to eat. You can also set reminders on your cell phone.
  • Add a bedtime snack to your routine.
  • Avoid anything labeled "diet," “lite,” “sugar-free,” “calorie-free,” or "zero sugar."


Eating plenty of nourishing foods after surgery helps your body recover, supports wound healing, and prevents constipation. With that said, you should check with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about the specific foods you can and cannot eat based on your surgery and general health.

In general, focus on whole foods, and avoid processed foods that are low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fat. Even if you have no appetite, you can maintain optimal nutrition by eating smaller, calorie-dense meals rather than sitting down for three large meals you cannot finish.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.